Nigeria with a population of 160million people, out of which 73 million were registered to vote as at the last general elections in 2011, also has a very vibrant social media community: with an estimated 43 million said to be online, Facebook has 4.3million, Twitter where they are the 3rd most active African nation on the network, with nothing less than 700, 000 users, 2.4 million Blackberry users logged into its Blackberry Messenger network, and very high numbers in the millions for other social networks such as 2go and Eskimi. This is not to mention the thousands of individual blogs and sites that aggregate articles by Nigerians.
These social networks have democratized expression of opinions and conversations, as daily, millions of debates, conversations, articles and opinions are expressed about by the mostly young Nigerians whose demography have shaped the Nigerian social media community. Without a doubt, I have followed and partaken in debates and conversations that rival those I have seen offline; as well as read articles that by opinion-writers that can compete and best those of our best newspaper columnists.
For the sake of this article, I will divide Nigerians on social media into two classes: the Twitter class (comprising of Twitter, BBM, bloggers and their readers) and the 2go crowd.
The Twitter class are predominantly from the middle class, are predominantly from a middle-class that is educated above the Nigerian average, are well-exposed enough to follow not just national events, but also international ones.
The 2go class on the other hand, are from the vastly more populated lower class or masses; and for the sake of saving space, are everything that the Twitter class isn’t.
While young Nigerians in the Twitter class might occupy their free time with TV shows such as Tinsel and Scandal, those in the 2go class mostly follow shows such as SuperStory and are enthralled by the wacky end of Nollywood movies. In many ways, the two classes live in alternate realities. They see and experience life differently.
Expectedly, these alternate realities also extend to their views on politics and nation-building. While I admit that our Twitter class aren’t without passion for Nigeria, there is a tendency for them to remain cocooned within their circle and not understanding not just the issues that afflict the 2go class, but also their motivations for responding or reacting a certain way on political issues.
It still baffles many of the Twitter class on issues such as: “why do these Nigerians vote based on religion/ethnicity/place of origin? Why did they accept money to sell their votes? Why do they praise this obviously corrupt politician?” It shows naiveté among the Twitter class on Nigerian issues as they tend to lean towards the idealistic rather than the present reality of our country and they cannot understand anyone who seems to thrive and be comfortable in this present reality.
Even worse than this is the inability for the Twitter class to be able to communicate and reach out to the 2go class. They seem to speak completely different languages.
Enter the Nigerian politician. He is aware of the fact, consciously or subconsciously, that even if all the numbers of Nigerians in the Twitter class were to vote, they would not deliver more than 5million votes. They also know that the 2go class are more likely to be more involved in the political process – whether it be as voters and being the crowd at campaign rallies, and sadly, as political thugs.
As a result, the politician concerns himself majorly to selling his candidacy and programmes (if they exist) to the 2go class, and employing all the methods and strategies that will appeal to them. He doesn’t concern himself with ethics or intelligent policy proposals because it doesn’t matter much to them, and those it matters to don’t bring the votes home. Instead, he rather engages himself in demagogues and appeals to their sentiments, making himself into their hero.
Considering the fact that the Twitter class are those most laden with dreams of how they want to change Nigeria and the Nigeria they want to see, the onus is on them to reach out to the 2go class if they desire to secure their buy-in in their efforts to change their corners of Nigeria.
The change we desire, though it may start from the middle class, will not be completed unless the masses are carried along, as they have the numbers and can create the needed effect. We need to step out of our neat, little circle and learn to speak their language, understand their behaviour, their motivations, and come up with solutions to societal issues they can understand and accept.
We cannot afford to be speaking ‘plenty grammar’ while those who benefit from the present systems in Nigeria that are wrong know how to speak their own language and win them to their side. We have to learn to see the issues from their own perspectives. It is not enough to say they are seeing it wrongly; it is more important to know why they see it so.
It is not in doubt that we are smarter and most time, can distinguish the chaff from the wheat. But by ourselves, we won’t be able to muster enough change if we do not carry those that have the numbers, and that is the masses.
They may choose not to go with us not because they do not believe in us and our efforts, but because we have failed to secure their buy-in because of a disconnect between us and them in communication and lifestyles.
In the end, we cannot claim to be working to change in Nigeria if we do not try to see Nigeria from as many perspectives as possible and get a complete, holistic picture of what she is and the problems that afflict her.
One way to do that is to learn to reach out to economic classes other than ours – learn about them as much as possible, understand their motivations, speak their language.
In summary, be like the typical Nigerian politician – only this time, with nobler intentions.